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Why are you ignoring me, Lenovo? (Customer Service)

(Update, September 2nd: Terry McCarthy, Customer Advocate, Executive Customer Relations, Customer Satisfaction Programs from Lenovo Services worked with me to resolve the problem to my satisfaction. Thanks to Terry, but not Lenovo Asia / Malaysia / Ms. Andrea Ong – Lenovo Care Manager, ASEAN Services, whose solution, despite claiming to really be listening to me, was to offer me a sale price on a new Thinkpad. I am glad to have my faith in Lenovo restored and I look forward to using Lenovo in the future, at least Lenovo USA anyway.)

I’ve decided to write publicly about my situation with Lenovo Customer Support because they are basically ignoring me. I am trying to resolve a situation with my Thinkpad X220T.

In summary, I bought the device and paid premiums in pricing for Thinkpad quality, a 3 year warranty, and a touch screen (to use as a tablet for Windows 8). 1 year from purchase, the device has never been stable under Windows 8 – I don’t mean errors sometimes crash, I mean the system cannot boot and I lose data. The touchscreen developed a crack during a recent business trip in which one morning, I opened the Thinkpad lid, and the crack was there.

Lenovo feels the crack is directly attributable to my usage – I disagree, but more details about that are below.

What I consider the most troubling of all, is that I have explored all the channels to resolve the cracked screen issue. Lenovo USA, Lenovo Sales (Phone: 1 855 253 6686), Lenovo Vietnam (Phone: 12011072 – Floor 3B, 37 Ton Duc Thang, District 1 in Ho Chi Minh City), and Lenovo Malaysia. Each time, I have talked to a generally polite Customer Service Representative who has informed me of the warranty policy stating that the cracked screen is my problem.

I have asked repeatedly to escalate the issue and speak to a supervisor or someone who is able to make a decision regarding my problem. Lenovo USA referred me to their Vietnam office (I am working in Vietnam). When meeting Lenovo’s Vietnamese employees, they were clearly avoiding my request to escalate the issue. Eventually, they referred me to a regional email ([email protected]). After several days and another follow-up from me, I was able to talk to someone on the phone. I explained I understood the policy, but asked to escalate the issue if that person was not authorized to make a decision directly. While the rep did look into the issue, when she replied, she did not provide this escalation information as requested, and I had to ask again, as in the email below, sent last Friday to Lenovo Malaysia.

Right now, it is Tuesday night, and no one has answered my email.

While this has been going on (over the last couple of weeks), I called Lenovo in the USA again, and was denied warranty support and told to call Customer Care at 1-800-887-7435 to escalate the problem. I did and was told again about the policy but was not allowed to directly escalate the issue during that call. Juvette told me that even a supervisor had no authority and that a different department would need to look into the problem and would respond within 72 hours (3 days).

This was one full week ago.

Since I frequently travel on business and live in the Vietnam time zone, it is no easy task to find time to follow-up with Lenovo so much.

Now, I’m stuck. I can call Customer Care back, but I expect they will say the same thing – that someone will respond within 3 days and that I am not able to speak to someone directly. Since Lenovo has proven that they WON’T respond to me, how I can believe it the next time I am told this?

I don’t know if I will be able to settle the issue with Lenovo Malaysia. They may be responding to my email late on purpose as a tactic or perhaps no one at Lenovo has any responsibility for escalation.

I’ve amassed a bunch of case numbers and CSR names during this process – Case A059PQ7, Case A05HQT2, EMKI1300016; Juvette, Brittney, Tim F, Aisleen, Tan, Son, Chu, Jessie.

I feel like I have been reasonable and patient throughout this process, but Lenovo seems determined to make me absolutely hate them. What is seriously wrong with Lenovo?

Below is my last email to Lenovo Malaysia from last Friday:

Hi Jessie,

Thank you for continuing to help with this; I appreciate your effort.

However, I would still like to speak with the supervisor or the key person responsible for these decisions, as I mentioned before. Can you help me with this?

I am open to the repair proposal, but there is a bigger problem.

The reality is that I have been very unhappy with my X220T device since I bought it a year ago. As I mentioned to you over the phone I have experienced non-stop issues with it, which I’ll briefly summarize here, but can explain in more detail if needed. There are not just annoyances, but critical machine-stopping problems.

  1. The machine has never worked with Windows 8. At first, I was able to excuse this because of beta drivers or just early launch issues. Ever since first installing it late last year, it had consistently died within several weeks. The machine would simply not stall during startup (the logo) and never boot, when every other time, it would load within 10 seconds (pleasantly quick). Sometimes, system restores would help, other times not. I have even created mirror image backups through Windows 8 that would still fail to boot after restoring. I have lost personal data multiple times because of this.
  2. In all, I have spent over 100 hrs trying to figure out the issue in various forums and reinstalling Windows seven times since late last year. I have run all of Lenovo’s system diagnostics, looked for help everywhere online, but couldn’t figure out the issue. I have had my tech support staff spend tends of hours looking into it as well. After a fresh install with minimal programs, I would load all of the newest drivers and system updates through Microsoft and Lenovo hoping this new install would benefit from fixes, but it would only soon crash again. I actually reinstalled my computer again just yesterday, this time to Windows 7.
  3. Aside from this primary issue, Windows 8 on this machine would also consistently exhibit CPU idling issues in which the CPU would run at 33% at full priority even while nothing running. This would happen even with fresh installs. Eventually, after consulting Microsoft forums, I was able to find that the issue was a Lenovo software, so I had to stop installing Lenovo software.
  4. Most recently, using the desktop in Windows 8 would cause the computer to freeze and I would have to instantly shut down and restore to a previous state to get another few days before the issue would happen again. I have done all the antivirus and hardware checks that I could find, but there has never been a reason to all this.
  5. Other than this, even using Windows 7, the system had issues with Sleeping (it would not go to sleep properly and then overheat if carried around while traveling) and also USB ports that would not consistently recognize devices (flash drives, hard drives) that other machines would.

For many of these issues for the past months, I have blamed Microsoft, but now I am beginning to feel that the Lenovo machine has to have some part in the problems. It can’t just be all software related.

As I mentioned originally, I have loved the Lenovo Thinkpad line for a decade, paying premium prices for its computers. I had a T61P before this, and have always recommended Lenovo first in the workplace.

With my X220T, however, I just don’t trust it anymore. I am guessing I have just had extremely bad luck, but I almost feel cursed.

Perhaps we can get the screen repaired, but it’s a touch screen. It was supposed to be able to withstand stresses from touching, and even when I hadn’t used it much as a tablet, it still cracked for no reason. My fear is that it will crack randomly again.

I don’t know if the machine will ever work under Windows 8, and I feel afraid to even try – and I bought the X220t with the tablet specifically to wait for Windows 8 and use it as a tablet/laptop hybrid.

Thus, I would like to find a solution for the device itself. Obviously, to have your staff try to troubleshoot the machine and Windows would likely be time consuming and fruitless. In addition, since I travel with this machine frequently, it would not be convenient to be unable to work for a few days.

At this point, I would be open to exchanging the machine. I would be open to exchanging the machine for the non-tablet equivalent of the original, the normal X220 with similar specs. The non-tablet X220 is less valuable in price but I am willing to accept that loss. My reasoning is that I would be happy to use that machine with Windows 7, and I won’t have a constant reminder or fear of another cracked screen. I will just give up my aspirations for tablet computing and Windows 8.

I hope that Lenovo can appreciate my history and work with me to find a solution that doesn’t make me feel that Lenovo has turned its back on me.

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NBA Game Time (International League Pass) in 2013 – a Sham of a Service

A couple of years ago, I looked at NBA League Pass for International audiences.

NBA Game Time International (Small)
In general, in 2011, the service was reasonably priced, but limited in features and buggy with virtually non-existent customer support.

Today, in 2013, things are basically the same. Almost every point I made two years is still true today. That indifference in making a better product, particularly when it’s clear how much NBA Game Time pales in comparison to the MLB (baseball) product is very disappointing. This year, I wasn’t able to access the NBA on my iPhone, and the service’s Customer Support is still atrocious.

Worst of all, prices have been raised considerably. Considering I primarily watch games on weekends (games are on in the morning during work hours), and only Golden State Warriors games, I probably pay $3 USD on average to watch a game. NBA TV is still a separate service that is not included.

Earlier today, I was so frustrated with their Customer Service (recently, video keeps pausing after a couple of minute, making games unwatchable) through another example of their indifference, ignorance, and template replies (instead of responding to what I was writing), I wrote back with:

I have been using League Pass for the last 3 years, and both your product and customer service are terrible.

I actually wrote about it in the past in a blog post that gets a surprising amount of views and I will let people know about how nothing has changed.

http://www.ispithotfire.com/2011/03/06/nba-league-pass-international-review/

  1. The product is terrible – no new features over three years and still buggy. Despite asking to keep me logged in, I am always asked to log in again and remember my password. From a pure product standpoint, other services are better. MLB for example, allows both home and away broadcasts. I HATE watching away broadcasts, and I HATE seeing the same generic commercials played over and over again. Earlier this year, when I asked about using League Pass on my iPhone, Customer Support directed me to a iTunes UK app link which cannot be used unless you’re a UK customer. There was no applicable iTunes link for US iTunes or Vietnam iTunes customers. When I asked Support about this again, I was ignored.
  2. Customer service is slow and often non-responsive. I have to follow-up as your support doesn’t even reply to my questions and comments, as just happened again this last time.
  3. Customer service provides template (“it’s the customer’s fault) answers instead of looking into what he is saying and potentially considering issues as real flaws that could be improved. As soon as Customer Service replies, I KNOW it is a template answer just meant for the customer to shut up and go away. This service is for International League pass, and you think I can ask a Vietnamese service provider to ask them why I have issues when connecting to a server in New York City in the United States? I already mentioned the stream used to work fine, and recently is when I started having issues. The feed would work fine, and then pause completely. If internet was simply too slow, which has happened to me before, I know that the video would take some time to queue up and then play again before pausing. However, the video here stalls completely and never turns back on.

My job is to pay you for a premium service. I did that. Your job is to provide it. You have not done that.

I guess since your company has a monopoly on things, why should they really care what people like me think? But, for people like me who are frustrated, that just gives them even more incentive to use free, pirated streams or use the money to switch to another sport completely.

At this point, why you even bother having the façade of customer service is a mystery to me.

Feel free to let [email protected] know if you feel the same as me.

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Making Audio Books Louder for the Finis SwiMP3 Player with MP3Gain

SwiMP3® X18Last Christmas, I got myself the Finis SwiMP3 Player for my lap swimming sessions. Overall, it’s a good player – simple to use, and it doesn’t require anything to be inserted directly into the ears. Supposedly, it uses bone conduction to remove the need for earbuds, but I wonder if this is just a marketing term as you can hear the audio even if the head pieces are not actually resting on your head. My feeling is that they are primarily just speakers you can attach to the side of your head that play audio directly towards your head, thus the bone “conduction.”

I realize I am not a scientist, however, so I am (often) likely to be wrong.

The one issue raised by many users (see its reviews and comments on Amazon) is the low volume of the player, particularly for audio books. Since you really need to listen carefully to audio books (or audiobooks), having a reasonable volume that can be heard over the sound of water and activity is important. From my own experience, the SwiMP3 volume really is too low, even with earplugs in a fairly quiet empty pool environment.

To resolve the issue, you’ll need to modify the audio files to make them sound louder with the player. Don’t worry, it’s not difficult at all.

This is what Finis Support suggests for Apple iTunes users:

1. Click on the file you wish to change once so it is highlighted blue
2. Right click with your mouse and a drop down will appear, select get info (please note this may be properties in an earlier version of iTunes)
3. Another window will appear, please click on the options tab on the top of the window
4. On the top you will see an option for Volume Adjustment that is currently set to none
5. Click and drag the bar to the right to increase the volume, I recommend putting it at 75-80% so the clarity of the audio book is not distorted
6. Click Ok once you have adjusted the file volume and now drag the file over to your SwiMp3 drive

But for non-iTunes users like myself, the walkthrough above doesn’t help too much. Here’s what I did to make the mp3 files sound louder using MP3Gain, which is free:

  1. Copy the files you want to listen to to a separate folder – for example, to the desktop. This makes sure you do not affect your files during normal listening.MP3Gain Finis SwiMP3
  2. Run MP3Gain. Download it at http://mp3gain.sourceforge.net
  3. Pick from the “Add File” (if only one file) or “Add Folder” buttons to pick the files you need to modify.
  4. Once you have chosen the files you want, you can now set the volume required with the Target “Normal” Volume:
  5. I suggest a setting from 97-100 dB. The default is 89.
  6. You can select all the files for conversion in the Path\File area by pressing inside that box, and then Control-A (press the Ctrl and A keys simultaneously).
  7. If you press Track Analysis, the program will show you what volume each of the files has at the moment, compared to the volume increase.
  8. Go ahead and press Track Gain when you are ready; there is no need to press the down arrow on the side, just press the bigger main button.
  9. The process to convert the files may take a few minutes.
  10. Once this is done, copy the changed files back to the MP3 Player and enjoy. (Plug in your player into your computer’s USB port. Open the player (on a Windows PC, look under My Computer) and copy all the files you just modified into the player. In case the audio volume is still too low, you can try raising the volume even higher, but there will be a point in which the audio quality will decrease. Experiment for best results!

MP3Gain Finis SwiMP3a

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The $40 Android Phone – Gionee Pocket [Review]

I have been testing Android phones lately, particularly low-end phones in order to understand the smartphone experience for less affluent users.gionee_logo

(Edit: June 28 2013. 3 months after the initial review, I dislike this phone greatly. As preexisting apps cannot be uninstalled, when those apps upgrade themselves over time, the internal memory runs out of space. This causes some of those apps to no longer run. I get a Twitter crash notification every day. Beyond that, I cannot message some people via SMS and it’s not clear why. Some people I can message, others I cannot. Phone numbers are not recognized well – a number saved in your phone with () or dashes might not be recognized when that user actually calls. At this point, I guess I can still say it is worth $40. But, it’s really just worth $40.)

In Vietnam, the cheapest, most affordable device I could find was the Gionee Pocket, currently listed at 990,000 VND, or about $47 USD. I got mine about 6 weeks ago, on sale from TheGioiDiDong for only about $40 and have been using it for the last 3 weeks. Gionee seems to be a Chinese manufacturer, and I couldn’t find a working official website for them, even from their instruction manual. In Vietnam, there’s http://www.gioneemobile.com.vn/, which seems to be run by their local distributor, Phoenix.

Let’s go over the specs and I’ll add commentary as well:

  • 240 x 320 Resolution, 2.8 inch Screen – the Pocket’s screen is better than the one on the popular Samsung Galaxy Y, which is also nearly 3 times as expensive. Others who have looked at both the Y and the Pocket confirmed to me that the Pocket’s screen is clearly better. Touchscreen recognition was good, though the feel of the touchscreen seems slightly “off”, at least in comparison to that of a iPhone 4S or Nokia E71. Maybe it feels more plasticky than hard glass?
  • Dual (2) SIM Support –  I don’t have any extra girlfriends on the side, so I haven’t been able to use this feature yet. Nonetheless, it’s a surprising feature for so cheap a phone and something that I think a lot of Vietnamese want;  it’s very common to see Vietnamese with multiple phones.
  • 3 Colored Shells – customize the back of your phone with shells in black, pink, or a light aqua blue – again, a nice touch considering the price of the phone.
  • No External Memory Included – to be expected. With the internal memory, you really can’t install anything new – the Pocket comes with a good number of default apps, which unfortunately cannot be uninstalled. For new apps, you are free to add a microsd up to 32GB; I installed a 2GB taken from my old Nokia E71 instead.
  • 1.3MP Camera – I took the photos the below with the Students’ View Viet Nam app, which has some nice filters. It’s certainly not a great camera, but some filters and creativity can go a long way to hides its weaknesses. (For more on the Students’ View photo contest, see http://www.studentview.vn/)

thumb_flex-1364605767134302_filethumb_flex-1364609300357672_filethumb_flex-1364698272231976_filethumb_flex-1364639112815221_filethumb_flex-1364640785658820_filethumb_flex-1364698010845959_file

  • No 3G but Wifi and Bluetooth – No 3G, which probably is better for the battery anyway, but you can still get push email updates over GPRS Edge. Edge is terribly slow in Vietnam, but at least you can be notified of emails and read text, which get loaded in the background. Wifi support works fine. I didn’t try Bluetooth.
  • 1280 mAh Battery – I have to recharge the phone every 2 to 3 days.
  • 1 GHZ CPU – this was surprising to me as other lower tier phones have only 800MHZ or even 600 MHZ CPUs. The cheapest phone has the fastest chip – I am assuming devices running Android can be compared apples to apples for CPUs. I haven’t tested any games or anything that would really test out the CPU, but apps responded well. You don’t feel the phone is slow.
  • No GPS - combined with the lack of 3G, this makes mapping and location-based features basically worthless as you become too dependent on needing Wifi to be able to do anything.
  • Android 2.3.6 (Gingerbread) Operating System (OS) – Gingerbread is an older Android version and though the Pocket cannot be updated, it wasn’t a problem. I had heard criticism of Android’s UI in the past, but it works fine. It’s not beautiful, but it works reasonably well, even with the lower resolution screen. I imagine the UI implementation is pretty close to the stock Android UI. I do feel that Android isn’t particularly intuitive for inexperienced tech users. The iPhone created some difficulties for me as well, but menus and buttons are usually rendered in iOS apps, while for Android you have to remember to bring up the designated (but not labeled) Options / Menu button on the device itself. I had to keep getting reminded of this by coworkers when I complained I had no idea what to do with certain apps.
  • Google Play – I really like using Google Play to install apps. It’s much easier and faster than using iTunes, either on the web or directly on the phone. For whatever reason, certain apps such as Google Chrome cannot be installed (Google Play specifically says it’s not compatible), but I was able to use popular apps such as Twitter, Facebook, Mimo, Instagram, YouTube, Skype, Opera Mini (but not Opera) and Gmail. Android phones also have the advantage of being able to install .apk (app) files manually, which basically means you can load test software or pirate them. For testing, this is a huge assistance as it’s a tremendous pain to prep an iPhone for testing. From the developer’s standpoint of selling apps, however, this means easy piracy.

http://i1.wp.com/www.gioneemobile.com.vn/Images/po5.JPG?resize=240%2C240http://i2.wp.com/www.gioneemobile.com.vn/Images/po4.JPG?resize=240%2C240http://i0.wp.com/www.gioneemobile.com.vn/Images/po6.JPG?resize=240%2C240

Because you’re able to sync your contacts, email, and calendar with Google’s apps, this can make managing your phone and linking your desktop tools much easier. I actually mainly use Outlook and Office, so I had to use Go Contact Sync Mod in order to sync my Outlook contacts with Google. For the casual user and target customer of this phone, however, I doubt they would know or spend the time to do this. Skype, Twitter, and Facebook apps on Android do let you integrate your contacts on those networks with the ones on the phone, and I think this IS something that Vietnamese users will appreciate.

I disliked that the contacts from multiple services aren’t automatically combined as one however. You may see the same friend listed multiple times with different information in each – it would be nice to have some way to merge those. In general, contacts works ok, but searching for them causes a headache as the Pocket’s Android UI requires me to always take an extra button press more than I think should be necessary. Some of this issue is likely exacerbated by the low screen resolution – when I search I feel like I can’t see what I want to see, that the keyboard is always blocking my view.

The biggest problem I have with the Gionee Pocket is its keyboard. Touchscreen recognition for typing works reasonably well, but with the smaller screen, it’s harder to type accurately with all the keys squeezed in. I have this problem with the iPhone as well, which is why I normally rotate the screen and type on the wider keyboard. While the Pocket does have the OS feature to automatically rotate the screen (it works for certain apps), there is no rotated keyboard. This keyboard issue started to become a deal breaker for me, which led me to look for keyboard alternatives. The fact you can do this is a plus for Android devices; Apple iOS devices are stuck with the one keyboard type.

I ended up trying one of the most popular Android apps today, Swype: http://www.swype.com/

It’s a replacement keyboard that operates you on moving your finger to the letters you are trying to type instead of pressing them individually. Swype then uses its smart autocorrection to guess the right word for you. For someone like me, this was worth trying, though the Swype keyboard also cannot be used in wide mode (or cannot be used in wide mode on the Pocket).

Swype supports multiple languages, including English and Vietnamese, and even lets you connect it to your Gmail, Facebook, personal website (through RSS), and Twitter accounts to learn more about how you write. I assume it looks through the words you use so it can suggest them more accurately when typing over the phone. For English, it works pretty well on the Pocket most of the time. For some reason, however, typing can become stalled and lagged. This happens while typing longer messages – the screen will stop responding for a couple of seconds. If you try to swipe/type anything when this happens, it won’t be picked up. I also noticed a lag opening the keyboard when you’re trying to reply to SMS. While the lost typing is a problem, the slight opening lag is more of a minor annoyance.

In addition to the lag problem, since I often type in a mix of English and Vietnamese or all Vietnamese with Vietnamese friends, this creates a lot of autocorrection errors. Even if I switch to the Vietnamese library, Swype won’t know all the words or shorthand I use, making so many errors that the keyboard is unusable. I don’t yet know how to to refuse an autocorrected entry, and though Swype also supports manual typing instead of swiping, the autocorrection issue remains. For now, my experience with Swype can be fantastic, atrocious, or a little of both, with experiences seemingly cut evenly at 33% of each type. Added to this is that the phone resets back to the default Android keyboard each time the phone is turned off or reset. Android has a great feature in which you can schedule the phone to be turned off during certain times (ex. at night) so you can save battery as well as sleep uninterrupted, but enabling this feature on the Pocket also means you have to switch the Swype keyboard back on each day.

All these issues combined make me want to type less on the phone and affect how much I want to use the phone. The phone should a natural extension of your life, but with a poor keyboard experience, the Pocket actively gives me reasons not to message people or respond to emails. For the targeted Pocket Owner, I am guessing they 1) won’t know of Swype 2) at best, pirate Swype 3) won’t find the settings required to optimize their experience, so this doesn’t help Swype or the Gionee Pocket user. For me, unless I can find a more consistent solution to typing over the long term, I do not think I can keep using this phone.

Verdict: For less than $50, I can’t argue too much against this phone. It’s a solid device and better than what I imagine a $50 phone should be. But with its non-rotating touch keyboard on a small screen, I would suggest trying the contact search and typing messages with it for at least 5 minutes before buying it. If you don’t run into any issues, I don’t think you will regret purchasing it. If you do have the same issues as me however, you may find yourself unable to use this smartphone to its full capabilities and not wanting to take the effort to struggle with it.

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